Blasphemy in Islam
Blasphemy, according to English dictionary, is “the act of insulting or showing contempt or lack of reverence for any religion’s deity or deities” (or “something considered sacred or inviolable”). Before dwelling on the concept of blasphemy as well as what it connotes, it is necessary to briefly highlight the background of this discourse.
Islam and any divinely revealed religions affirm the fact that Allah (God) is the Creator, Owner and Lord of the entire creation. By virtue of this, He possesses the sole unchallenged prerogative to determine the destiny of His creatures, the purpose of their creation and how they should live and conduct their affairs. It is also part of His divine prerogative to guide man by setting standards and limits which man must keep and comply with. Allah exercised this divine duty by raising Prophets with divine messages to various communities over the ages. Allah did not create man for the mere sake of creation. Right from creation, Allah has clearly assigned duties to mankind with clear divine guidelines delivered through His various Prophets. We need to remind ourselves that as revealed in the following verse of the Quran, we human beings had undertaken a covenant with Allah whereby we affirmed that we would abide by His commandment and follow His prophets:
*Remember, when Allah took covenant of the Prophets, saying: “Now that you have been given the Book and Wisdom; there will come to you a Messenger (i.e. Muhammad s a w) who will confirm that which is with you, you will have to believe in him and help (him in his mission).” Then He said, “Do you affirm this covenant and agree to take this heavy responsibility?” They replied, “Yes we do affirm.” Allah said, “Very well, bear witness to this and I too bear witness with you.” So if anyone turns back after this, he will become the transgressor.* (Aal-’Imraan, Qur’an Chapter 3 v 81–82)
Allah knows that mankind would not be faithful to this covenant and that they would also go to the extent of inventing contrary religions and ways of life for themselves. He therefore further queried which would be more appropriate, His ordained religion or the ones invented by man.
*Are they looking for a religion other than the religion of Allah (knowing well) that everything in the heavens and in the earth, willingly or unwillingly, has submitted to Him? And to Him they shall all return.*(Aal-’Imraan, Qur’an Chapter 3 v 83).
As a manifestation of transgression, rebellion and invention of religions besides that of the Divine Being, human beings insult, show contempt or lack of reverence and open antagonism to the divine religion. Allah has therefore decreed severe punishment for all the transgressors and the rebellious ones for waging war against Him, His religion and His Messenger (s a w).
*The punishment for those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger (s a w) and strive to create mischief in the land, is death or crucifixion or the cutting off of their hands and feet from opposite sides or exile from the land (based on the gravity of their offence). This will be their humiliation in this world and in the hereafter; they will have grievous punishment, except those who repent before you apprehend them, (in such a case), you should know that Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.* (Al-Maaidah, Qur’an Chapter 5 v 33–34).
Furthermore, Allah decreed concerning blasphemy as follows:
*If the hypocrites, those in whose hearts is a disease (malice) and the scandal mongers (or those who stir up sedition in) Madinah (the City) do not desist; We shall certainly stir you up against them, and their days in the city — as your neighbours — will be numbered. They shall be cursed wherever they are found and they shall be seized and killed mercilessly.*(Al-Ahzaab, Qur’an Chapter 33 v 60–61).
According to several Ahaadiith (sayings), Prophet Muhammad (s a w) ordered a number of enemies of Islaam who were guilty of blasphemy to be executed.
An example was the case of Ka’bah ibn al-Ashraf.
*The Prophet (s a w) said: “Who is ready to kill Ka’b ibn al-Ashraf who has really hurt Allah and His Apostle?” Muhammad bin Maslama said, “O Allah’s Apostle! Do you like me to kill him?” He replied in the affirmative. So, Muhammad bin Maslama went to him (i.e. Ka’b) and said, “This person (i.e. the Prophet) has put us to task and asked us for charity.” Ka’b replied, “By Allah, you will get tired of him”. Muhammad bin Maslama said to him, “We have followed him, so we dislike to leave him till we see the end of his affairs.” Muhammad bin Maslama went on talking to him in this way till he got the chance to kill him. Narrated Jabir bin ‘Abdullah.* (Sahih al- Bukhari and Sahih Muslim).
In Islam, blasphemy directed against the Prophet is a rebellion and a declaration of war against Allah and His Messenger (s a w). Apart from Allah and His noble Prophet who must not be maligned under any circumstances other religious things considered inviolable are Allah’s religion and the book of Allah, the Qur’an.
In the Islamic jurisprudence, Allah is capable of defending Himself against any blasphemy. However, His Messenger (s a w) and His book, the Qur’an are to be defended by the believers (the Muslims). This is because the Messenger of Allah (s a w) is the emblem of Allah’s religion. Allah created him (s a w) impeccable. So any attempt to deride him (s a w) in any form amounts to blasphemy. While such blasphemous claim can not be true of the Prophet (s a w), the blasphemy is also considered a stain on the divine religion and it must not be accommodated. The religion of Allah, Islam or the divine message is faultless and cannot be faulted because Allah, the source, is perfect and He can not be associated with imperfection.
It is worthy of note that apart from the divinely ordained Prophets of Allah, Muslims and other human beings are fallible and can be faulted.
The enforcement of the punishment for blasphemy, is the mandate and responsibility of the Islamic authority. Where the Islamic authority is not in existence, the Council of Islamic leaders and scholars under a secular state will act. Moreover, where the penal code is in use and a permissibility clause is provided in the constitution of a secular government like Nigeria, the state authorities can enact laws to put peculiar crimes under control.
The contention as to whether the divine law is supreme or more superior to a country’s constitution by the non-Muslims is an unfortunate development. The non-Muslims are only being mischievous in their contention. Religious people will not yield to this contention because it is not justified as indicated in the introduction to this discourse. Moreover, even under a secular dispensation in some countries of the world, leaders have had to resort to killing of offenders for crimes that are not related to religion such as embezzlement of public funds, armed robbery, murder, treason and felony and many more as a response to extraordinary circumstances.
The reality of our situation is that, the absence of Ijtihaad(the act of jurisprudence, that is, legislation meant to cater contemporary matters) expected to be put in place by the Islamic authorities or the Islamic government has created the room for the claim of “the inappropriateness” of enforcement of divine legislation under a secular government. As far as the Islamic religious faithfuls are concerned, there is no apology to those who are averse to the enforcement of the divine legislation. Islam is not like any other religions that have been compromised by their followers. The divine legislations are sacrosanct. Humanly invented religions are not to be accorded precedence over the divine religion. It is in compliance with the divine legislations that salvation lies. Muslims as well as sincere people of divinely ordained religions are rather enjoined as follows:
*(O Prophet), say: We believe in Allah and what is revealed to us and what was revealed to Ibrahim (Abraham), Ismaa’il (Ishmael), Ishaaq (Isaac), Ya’quub (Jacob); and the descendants (the Prophets who were the offspring of Jacob); and in that which was given to Musa (Moses), ‘Isa (Jesus) and other Prophets from their Lord; we do not discriminate between any one of them, and to Allah do we submit ourselves (as Muslims). If anyone is looking for a religion other than Islam, (then let it be known that) he will be among the losers.* (Aal-’Imraan, Qur’an Chapter 3 v 84–85).
It is therefore understood that divine religion is one and it is the same message with which all Prophets and Messengers of Allah have been sent. The differences in religions today are man — made and they do not benefit any one. The divine legislation is supreme and takes precedence over human thinking. The divine legislation is therefore to be upheld when the need arises. Whoever seeks to be exonerated from the punishment of blasphemy and any other sins punishable by the divine laws should honourably avoid committing such sins. No one is compelled to adopt a religion. If you choose to be atheists remain as such and leave those who desire to practise the religion that they prefer.